Murphy's Law and Disasters Waiting To Happen, Or, The Princess of the Stars Tragedy  

Posted by Laya in , ,

So wrapped up in trying to get a website online, we didn't even notice there was a storm brewing. We managed to get the site up 30 minutes before quitting time on Friday, June 20, 2008, then rushed home ahead of the gathering rain. At approximately the same time that my co-workers and I left the office, a ferry had left port a few kilometers away from our workplace in Quezon City and was making its way out of Manila Bay towards a fateful rendezvous with death. I was glad the next day when the heavy rains gave me an excuse not to render Saturday overtime, inspiring me to sleep late and not even turn on the TV. A way to compensate for nearly three weeks of uber-overtime including whole weekends. It was Sunday when I tuned in to GMA News and saw the newsflash-- San Fernando, Romblon mayor Nanette Tansingco's radio interview, where she said that she had sent their municipal Chief of Police and members of the Bantay Dagat in a speedboat to verify the wreck "nakita nilang may nakataob na barko may butas sa gitna (they saw a ship belly up with a hole in the middle)" but they couldn't get near it because of rough seas and almost zero visibility.

The ship was the M/V Princess of the Stars-- Sulpicio Lines' "flagship". Supposedly with a capacity of 1,992 passengers, it was carrying only a little over 800 people when it crossed the path of a meandering Typhoon Frank near Sibuyan Island, Romblon at noon on Saturday, June 21, 2008. According to the few survivors, it was all over in 15 minutes. They described waves as tall as mountains (mas malaki pa sa simbahan), saying that the ship slowed down and began to tilt. It was noon and lunch was being served when the order came to abandon ship. Of the more than 800 people on board including about 50 children and infants, only about 57 lived to tell the tale.

Much has been written and continues to be written on the "culture of disaster" that seems to permeate the Filipino way of life -- fatalism, belief in Divine Providence and fate, "bahala na". With the Princess of the Stars, and, it seems, as with all the other ferry disasters this country has endured, Murphy's Law always caught people at their weakest and most inattentive times. If I remember correctly, the M/V Vector smashed into the Dona Paz in what came to be considered "the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster" when, it was said, the tanker's crew were napping, watching television and drinking beer. Such inattention to duty, accompanied with sheer overloading and the desire to turn a profit on the side of the powers that be that made the Dona Paz possible (would it be rude to call it greed? :P), cost over 4,000 lives-- nearly four times the death toll of the famous Titanic-- and made the Christmas of 1987 one of the saddest in this nation's history. This time, a ship was allowed to sail in disregard of a gathering storm-- a fatal miscalculation. Or was it a miscalculation? The word miscalculation denotes a mistake, an error. If you knew that grave danger was looming, would you still walk willingly into it, or would you try to get as far away from it as you could? What would you call the act of someone who would knowingly lead over 800 people into a dangerous situation? You'd not call it a mistake, but arrant foolhardiness, right?

Yet, so many do it, like the man who gambles his family's food budget for a month, on the risk of winning-- never considering that he may lose. Princess of the Stars was just this gamble magnified-- the gamble of bringing the ship in safe and on time (as if Sulpicio ships were ever on time). It was a gamble that should not have been made on the lives of people. It was a disaster waiting to happen. The shipping company called it an act of God. Instead, in view of the many ferry disasters that this company has been involved in in the past, and in view of all the lives that it has gambled with and lost to the deeps of the seas, I only remember one of our folk adages: "Kaisa, suyap. Kaduha, sipyat. Katatlo, katangahan, ukon gintuyo na. (Once is a mistake, twice may be a coincidence, but thrice is either foolhardiness, intentional negligence, or deliberate malice.)"

I never dreamed that the first articles I'd write for my new site, the one we'd just put up the Friday before, would be on Typhoon Frank and the Princess of the Stars disaster. As I read the news coverage and wrote my stories, tears kept trickling down my face to the chagrin of everybody in the office including myself. Tears of sorrow, of frustrated rage, that was all that I and everyone else could offer, all of us who ask: Did it have to happen?

This entry was posted at Friday, June 27, 2008 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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